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- Morning Star - 2/46 -
you say, my dear. The royal Abi does not like to hear the colour of his late mother defined so closely. But why did he slap your face?"
She told him.
"Well," he answered, "if I had been in his place I would rather have kissed it, for it is pretty, decidedly pretty," and this learned man forgot himself so far as to wink at Merytra.
"There, Sister," said the girl, "I always told you that rough shells have sweet nuts inside of them. Thank you for your compliment, Master of learning. Will you tell us our fortune for nothing?"
"Yes, yes," he answered; "at least the fee I want will cost you nothing. Now stop this nonsense," he added, anxiously, "I gather that /he/ is cross."
"I never saw him crosser, Kaku. I am glad it is you who reads the stars, not I. Listen!"
As he spoke an angry roar reached them from the high deck above.
"Where is that accursed astrologer?" said the roar.
"There, what did I tell you? Oh! never mind the rest of the papers, go at once. Your robe is full of rolls as it is."
"Yes," answered Kaku as he ran to the ladder, "but the question is, how will he like what is in the rolls?"
"The gods be with you!" cried one of the girls after him, "you will need them all."
"And if you get back alive, don't forget your promise about the fortunes," said the other.
A minute later this searcher of the heavens, a tall, hook-nosed man, was prostrating himself before Abi in his pavilion on the upper deck, so low that his Syrian-shaped cap fell from his bald head.
"Why were you so long in coming?" asked Abi.
"Because your slaves could not find me, royal Son of the Sun. I was at work in my cabin."
"Indeed, I thought I heard them giggling with you down there. What did you call me? Royal Son of the Sun? That is Pharaoh's name! Have the stars shown you----?" and he looked at him eagerly.
"No, Prince, not exactly that. I did not think it needful to search them on a matter which seems established, more or less."
"More or less," answered Abi gloomily. "What do you mean by your 'more or less'? Here am I at the turning-point of my fortunes, not knowing whether I am to be Pharaoh of the Upper and Lower Lands, or only the petty lord of a city and a few provinces in the Delta, and you satisfy my hunger for the truth with an empty dish of 'more or less.' Man, what do you mean?"
"If your Majesty will be pleased to tell his servant exactly what you desire to know, perhaps I may be able to answer the question," replied Kaku humbly.
"Majesty! Well, I desire to know by what warrant you call me 'Majesty,' who am only Prince of Memphis. Did the stars give it to you? Have you obeyed me and asked them of the future?"
"Certainly, certainly. How could I disobey? I observed them all last night, and have been working out the results till this moment; indeed, they are not yet finished. Question and I will answer."
"You will answer, yes, but what will you answer? Not the truth, I fancy, because you are a coward, though if anyone can read the truth, it is you. Man," he added fiercely, "if you dare to lie to me I will cut your head off and take it to Pharaoh as a traitor's; and your body shall lie, not in that fine tomb which you have made, but in the belly of a crocodile whence there is no resurrection. Do you understand? Then let us come to the point. Look, the sun sets there behind the Tombs of Kings, where the departed Pharaohs of Egypt take their rest till the Day of Awakening. It is a bad omen for me, I know, who wished to reach this city in the morning when Ra was in the House of Life, the East, and not in the House of Death, the West; but that accursed wind sent by Typhon, held me back and I could not. Well, let us begin at the end which must come after all. Tell me, you reader of the heavens, shall I sleep at last in that valley?"
"I think so, Prince; at least, so says your planet. Look, yonder, it springs to life above you," and he pointed to an orb that appeared at the topmost edge of the red glow of the sunset.
"You are keeping something back from me," said Abi, searching Kaku's face with his fierce eyes. "Shall I sleep in the tomb of Pharaoh, in my own everlasting house that I shall have made ready to receive me?"
"Son of Ra, I cannot say," answered the astrologer. "Divine One, I will be frank with you. Though you be wrath, yet will I tell you the truth as you command me. An evil influence is at work in your House of Life. Another star crosses and re-crosses your path, and though for a long time you seem to swallow it up, yet at the last it eclipses you-- it and one that goes with it."
"What star?" asked Abi hoarsely, "Pharaoh's?"
"Nay, Prince, the star of Amen."
"Amen! What Amen?"
"Amen the god, Prince, the mighty father of the gods."
"Amen the god," repeated Abi in an awed voice. "How can a man fight against a god?"
"Say rather against two gods, for with the star of Amen goes the star of Hathor, Queen of Love. Not for many periods of thousands of years have they been together, but now they draw near to each other, and so will remain for all your life. Look," and Kaku pointed to the Eastern horizon where a faint rosy glow still lingered reflected from the western sky.
As they watched this glow melted, and there in the pure heavens, lying just where it met the distant land, seeming to rest upon the land, indeed, appeared a bright and beautiful star, and so close to it that, to the eye, they almost touched, a twin star. For a few minutes only were they seen; then they vanished beneath the line of the horizon.
"The morning star of Amen, and with it the star of Hathor," said the astrologer.
"Well, Fool, what of it?" exclaimed Abi. "They are far enough from my star; moreover, it is they that sink, not I, who ride higher every moment."
"Aye, Prince, but in a year to come they will certainly eclipse that star of yours. Prince, Amen and Hathor are against you. Look, I will show you their journeyings on this scroll and you shall see where they eat you up yonder, yes, yonder over the Valley of dead Kings, though twenty years and more must go by ere then, and take this for your comfort, during those years you shine alone," and he began to unfold a papyrus roll.
Abi snatched it from him, crumpled it up and threw it in his face.
"You cheat!" he said. "Do you think to frighten me with this nonsense about stars? Here is my star," and he drew the short sword at his side and shook it over the head of the trembling Kaku. "This sharp bronze is the star I follow, and be careful lest it should eclipse /you/, you father of lies."
"I have told the truth as I see it," answered the poor astrologer with some dignity, "but if you wish, O Prince, that in the future I should indeed prophesy pleasant things to you, why, it can be done easily enough. Moreover, it seems to me that this horoscope of yours is not so evil, seeing that it gives to you over twenty years of life and power, more by far than most men can expect--at your age. If after that come troubles and the end, what of it?"
"That is so," replied Abi mollified. "It was my ill-temper, everything has gone cross to-day. Well, a gold cup, my own, shall pay the price of it. Bear me no ill-will, I pray you, learned scribe, and above all tell me no falsehood as the message of the stars you serve. It is the truth I seek, the truth. If only she may be seen, and clasped, I care not how ill-favoured is her face."
Rejoicing at the turn which things had taken, and especially at the promise of the priceless cup which he had long coveted, Kaku bowed obsequiously. He picked up his crumpled roll and was about to retire when through the gloom of the falling night, some men mounted upon asses were seen riding over the mud flats that border the Nile at this spot, towards that bank where the ship was moored.
"The captain of my guard," said Abi, who saw the starlight gleam upon a bronze helmet, "who brings me Pharaoh's answer. Nay, go not, bide and hear it, Kaku, and give us your counsel on it, your true counsel."
So the astrologer stood aside and waited, till presently the captain appeared saluting.
"What says Pharaoh, my brother?" asked the Prince.
"Lord, he says that he will receive you, though as he did not send for you, he thinks that you can scarcely come upon any necessary errand, as he has heard long ago of your victory over the desert-dwelling barbarians, and does not want the offering of the salted heads of their officers which you bring to him."
"Good," said Abi contemptuously. "The divine Pharaoh was ever a woman in such matters, as in others. Let him be thankful that he has generals who know how to make war and to cut off the heads of his enemies in defence of the kingdom. We will wait upon him to-morrow."
"Lord," added the captain, "that is not all Pharaoh's message. He says that it has been reported to him that you are accompanied by a guard of three hundred soldiers. These soldiers he refuses to allow within the gates. He directs that you shall appear before his Majesty attended by five persons only."
"Indeed," answered Abi with a scornful laugh. "Does Pharaoh fear, then, lest I should capture him and his armies and the great city with three hundred soldiers?"
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